Cover art by @designedbymanda on Instagram
Note: Sundial Thoughts content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Team or other contributors.
Content Warning: This article discusses themes of body-shaming, body dysmorphia and eating disorders, which may be sensitive for some.
Earlier this year, Strictly Come Dancing star and Gordon Ramsay’s daughter Tilly made headlines when she responded to a comment on her appearance made by 67-year-old LBC radio host, Steven Allen. In response to Tilly taking part in a reality TV dancing competition, Steven not only said “she can’t blimmin’ well dance”, but stated that Tilly is “a chubby little thing, isn’t she? Have you noticed? Probably her dad’s cooking, I should imagine.”
Tilly retorted Steven’s derogatory comments on Instagram – where she boasts 1.2 million followers – stating that she “won’t tolerate people that think it’s okay to publicly comment and scrutinise anyone’s weight or appearance”. She highlighted the vast age difference between herself and Steven, commenting that being “called out on a national radio station by a 67-year-old man is a step too far”. Tilly’s mature and professional response is an almost comical put-down of the immaturity and lack of sensitivity of Steven’s comments.
Tilly was joined by a plethora of supporters, many of whom were also outraged by the comments made by Steven. Notable voices included the Youth Mental Health Ambassador Dr. Alex George, who wrote an open letter to LBC, saying: “It is widely recognised just how damaging such comments about someone’s weight are and the effect they can have on an individual’s mental health.”
The UK mental health care provider Priory estimates that between 1.3 and 3.4 million people are affected by an eating disorder, with the average age of onset between 16 and 17 years old. With this in mind, it’s incredibly important to address comments such as those made by Steven with the severity they deserve. The impact of his thoughtless criticisms not only affect Tilly, but the hundreds of others who listen to his show and believe that statements like this are acceptable. Tilly has a large following of young and impressionable women, and the way she responded to the comments made about her is hugely influential to how the girls who follow her view both the comments and themselves.
In the age of social media, it’s incredibly easy to judge and compare oneself to the ‘highlight reel’ of someone else’s life. But it is crucial to remember that social media sites such as Instagram are simply just that: a highlight reel. With only the best angles and the best lighting to compare oneself to, eating disorders and cases of body dysmorphia are rising, especially among younger girls who compare themselves to airbrushed models online. Only the best parts of people’s lives are shown in each little square, and that must not be forgotten or overlooked in order to reach unreasonable, and indeed unrealistic ‘beauty standards’.
That’s why Tilly’s action in taking the time to post about Steven’s comments and raise awareness on the issue of body shaming, especially for young women, is so valuable. Her response highlighted that Steven’s comments were unacceptable to millions of young people, whilst also distancing herself from the fatphobic view that ‘fat = bad’, which Steven was perpetrating amongst other patriarchal standards set for the way women ‘should’ look like.
By preaching a message of self-love, Tilly acknowledged that existing within the public sphere means that people are going to talk about you whether you like it or not, but that she is learning to accept herself even amidst such harsh, although uncalled for, scrutiny. She pertinently and gracefully demonstrated that looking like yourself and finding that beautiful is what we should be most proud of.
And this message is one that has now gained even more popularity over Instagram, with the rise of ‘body positive’ influencers such as Georgie Clarke (@georgie.clarke) and Megan Jayne Crabbe (@meganjaynecrabbe) who aim to dispel the idea that people’s reality is what it looks like on Instagram. Georgie uses her platform of 1.3 million followers to encourage everyone to embrace themselves and not conform to patriarchally informed societal expectations of beauty. Meanwhile, Jayne emphasises the fact that so much of what is presented to us as genuine on Instagram is in fact a heavily edited and photoshopped version of reality. She shows the ups and downs in her day-to-day life, and how her body is still worth loving even on days when she’s not feeling her best.
However, in addition to discussing body image on social media, it’s important to remember that eating disorders and body dysmorphia are incredibly difficult topics, both to address and experience. It is with the voice of people like Tilly that more people are able to step up and get the help they need through charities such as B-EAT, the leading eating disorder charity in the UK. Their national helpline is open 365 days a year, and they support people in taking positive steps towards recovery. As such, through her statement, Tilly ultimately relays to us a message that we should keep regardless of gender or appearance. That loving yourself is a choice made every single day, and we should keep choosing to do so despite the negative obstructions that may arise. Through standing up to Steven Allen and speaking her mind, Tilly has given her followers and the rest of us the motivation and vital reminder to do exactly so.
Article by Georgia Purcell